Which? survey criticises university’s approach to course changes
Cardiff University has been identified as a ‘bad practice’ university by a Which? investigation into course changes.
The higher education survey gathered information from 131 higher education providers about changes they make to courses once students have enrolled. It was found that over half of the providers, including Cardiff University, currently use contract terms or other policies that enable them to change courses after enrolment.
Cardiff was amongst three in ten universities surveyed that were considered to be bad practice. The University was also found to use terms that were considered by Which? to be unlawful and in contravention of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
Although it was acknowledged that ‘universities sometimes do need to make changes to courses that are justified and fair’, the report raised concerns that ‘at times this is happening in a way that is detrimental to students’.
A current second year Biomedical student at Cardiff University described the amount of changes to her course during her time at university as “ridiculous”.
The student, who originally applied to Cardiff University through clearing to study Genetics, was denied a place on to the course, as she did not have an A-level in Chemistry.
She commented: “The course specifications were not clear and I was eventually told the last place on the course had been given to someone else and that I would instead be put onto a preliminary course.
“After studying a year of Chemistry in prelim I was told in the first week of lectures that the genetics course had changed to allow for students who had not studied Chemistry A-level. Many of the modules were the same as I had already studied on the prelim course and I felt as though I had wasted £9,000 and a year of my life – something which a member of staff in the department sarcastically described as ‘funny’.
“The content of the course was completely different from what any of us had signed up for and we were only made aware of this in the first lecture of the year.”
Last year the department introduced a common first year, designed to give a ‘broad base of knowledge’ and allow ‘those who are not sure which degree scheme they would like to follow the option to change at the end of the year’.
A number of students reported that they were unaware of the changes to their course until they enrolled.
The department admitted that the decision was ‘last-minute’ and the limited number of staff members and lecture theatres available to accommodate all the individual Bioscience subjects meant that the course delivered was different to what was advertised to students when they applied.
A first year Biomedical student commented that they felt “let down” by the department, adding: “they dramatically changed the structure of the course after we had been accepted onto the course and failed to notify anyone of the change.”
“The fact that it has been mis-sold and we are all paying £9,000 for it makes me really think something should be done to make up for it.”
Students were offered nothing in the way of compensation and questions have been raised as to whether such practices by universities are in fact illegal, going against consumer law.
A close analysis of Cardiff University’s policy by Which? found what they labelled ‘unfair terms in relation to varying fees’.
The report also concluded that there was inadequate information available to assess the right to make other changes to courses.
This information was not easy to find and it was highlighted that students are unaware of the potential changes that may be made to their courses.
A Cardiff student was cited as saying: “The module content was advertised when I applied to university. Upon choosing [this university], my decision was largely based on course content, so as you can imagine it was a kick in the shins to find that the content of some modules had been changed without notice. There should be more accountability and a structure in place for change of module content to ensure that students get what they thought they were applying for. The £9000 a year tuition fees seem ludicrous when there is no fairness in the system.”
In response to the report, a Cardiff University spokesperson said: “The Which? report raises some extremely important issues. As a University, we need time to reflect and consider the report’s findings in consultation with our own legal advice. We can, however, assure all our students that we take the issues raised extremely seriously.”
“A number of new measures have already been considered as a result of changes to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education code of practice that requires information in the public domain about our courses to be accurate and we are reviewing all our relevant policies in the light of new guidance for universities from the Competition and Markets Authority.
“We have a series of robust processes in place before any course changes can occur, and we do our utmost to ensure that courses do not change without appropriate and detailed discussions with the affected students. There will always be exceptional circumstances that arise but all mandatory or core modules are always prioritised.”